Using the Top 5 Best Practices in School Branding to Attract Students

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No matter what level of education marketing you are in, it all comes down to one important issue: enrollment.

To acquire and retain quality students, your education marketing needs to be vibrant, innovative, and fresh. At Chartwell Agency, we have worked with all sorts of schools, from large public districts to private college-preparatory schools, and from regional universities to independent colleges.

We recognize that creating a brand for your school that reflects who you really are is critical. Whether you need school branding or rebranding, the most crucial piece is standing out from the crowd and creating an authentic brand for your public school district, private school, or university. Today’s blog is focused primarily on marketing for educational institutions from PreK through 12th grade. (If you are seeking higher education marketing insight, stay tuned as our next blog will focus on college marketing and university marketing.)

We often get asked “what are most effective marketing tactics for school branding?” While there are numerous options to market your school, it also is likely that your school district doesn’t have a money tree growing on its property to pay for all the efforts. To be the most impactful with your budget, following is a list of the top five best practices in school branding to attract students:

Develop an authentic message.

Each school, whether a private high school or a public school district, has a unique proposition of what it can offer students. (NOTE: This is not the school’s mission or vision statements.) Identify your values, differentiators, and unique “selling points” to develop and validate your message.

For example, does your large public school district offer a plethora of optional programs from students to thrive in and/or extra-curricular opportunities that no others in the area can offer? Similarly, does your small private school offer amazing academics that meet students where they are to both challenge and support them? Are there unique clubs and opportunities that only a smaller school with more personalized options can provide?

Developing a message unique to your educational institution will mean gaining insight from leaders, teachers, families, students, community members, alum, and others.

Determine if you need to rebrand your school.

Before you close out of this blog, just know that rebranding does take a bit of time and effort, but it doesn’t have to be a herculean task. It may be that the authentic message you developed can easily be updated on your website, your collateral, and ongoing messaging to prospective families. However, sometimes you may need to take the extra steps to enhance your logo, update your website, and create new content that really speaks to your ideal students/families. Branding and rebranding efforts are not a one-size-fits-all approach. If you want your school branding to reach the right audiences, you need to make it attractive and welcoming to your unique group of people. 

Invest in your website.

If you are going to spend money anywhere in your school marketing or school rebranding efforts, this is the place to do it. Your website is your virtual front door. And, like most things these days, consumers (e.g. parents) will go to your website before they visit your school or make an inquiry. Is your site easy for others to navigate? Are you prominently featuring your unique opportunities/offerings? Is it mobile-responsive? (If you are not sure, pull up your school’s website on your mobile phone and tablet and see what it looks like.)

Additionally, if you are putting time and effort into your school rebranding, it’s imperative to include an SEO audit. This is not mumbo-jumbo talk. An SEO audit is absolutely one of the most impactful ways you can ensure your school branding efforts are working for you. When done correctly, an SEO audit can draw the right-fit families to your school, enhance inquiries, and drive enrollment. Hands down, an SEO audit has been the most beneficial effort we have down for our own company and do for companies and organizations across the country.

Create a marketing campaign.

A marketing campaign can be as large or small as a school wants. (Unless, again, you found that money tree on your property.) A marketing campaign for schools serves as a creative umbrella under which individual marketing efforts can be consistently produced. It can be visually appealing through the appropriate graphic design and tied together with an impactful and authentic tagline that really resonates with your school families.

Your prospective students/families and teachers need to find you and become engaged and enthusiastic for/about you. You can implement the marketing campaign in phases, based on school-aged children you are trying to attract (e.g. focus on elementary in the summer, middle/high school in the spring) or by the marketing tactics (e.g. digital marketing in the spring/summer, internal communications for referrals in the fall, traditional advertising in the spring). However you decide to move your school’s marketing campaign forward, the first and only rule is to ensure it is ongoing. Remember, every day in every city, a family is seeking new or different options for their student.

Prioritize digital marketing.

If you are moving forward with school branding efforts, make your first marketing priority digital advertising. It’s the only school marketing tactic that can specifically target your key audiences by region (or even zip codes), households with right-aged children, and even household income. You can gain more inquiries through a school digital marketing campaign than any other effort because you’re sending relevant messaging to your right-fit audiences. Traditional advertising (e.g. billboards, print, television) can also be used if you have the funds, but these efforts are much more about building a positive community brand – which is absolutely critical – than driving inquiries and enrollment.

Whether families are paying for their education or not, it is imperative that they feel a sense of ownership and energy for their school. Your students, their families, and the community need to feel pride and confidence in your school, and investing in school branding or school rebranding can help you to create and send that message to your constituents helping you celebrate your unique attributes is critical in education marketing. If you’re seeking assistance in the first step or several steps in your school branding efforts, Chartwell – with 20 years of school marketing expertise – welcomes the conversation to assist you.